Happy Birthday, monkey.
Camping is a crapshoot. On a good trip, the conditions can be just right, the campsite ideal, the amenities perfect for keeping kids and parents occupied happily for the duration of the stay. On a bad trip, the people next to you are drunken bigots, the mosquitoes carry off your children, the lake is a swamp, and you’re miles from any ice cream stand. If you’ve got a shiny new trailer, you can hole up inside and pretend you’re at home on the couch watching Age of Ultron with the kids. When you’re tent camping, you’re at the mercy of pretty much everything. So you do the research, look at the pictures, ask for recommendations, and take a leap of faith a year in advance, hoping you made the right call and a hurricane with a stupid name doesn’t wipe your reservation off the map.
Early this year, I looked around for another Eastern Shore-based campground that had all of the cool stuff our last place did minus the live band and found Jane’s Island State Park, down at the bottom of Maryland before Maryland becomes Virginia. Reviews looked promising, the sites looked clean, and I was able to reserve a spot right on a canal, figuring the closer we were to moving water, the cooler we’d be.
I’ve spent the last week preparing for the trip, making piles of gear and then moving them around the house, paranoid I was going to forget something important. I upgraded our cooler. The Scout has new brakes, which are AMAZING and feel fantastic. I premade hobo stew for our first night at the campsite, figuring after I drove all the way down there, set up camp, and got the kids organized, easier dinner would taste better.
We were able to hit the road at 9:15 and got to the Bay Bridge by 10, slowing for some construction at the site of the old toll plaza. Once we made it over the span, we breezed into Easton, picked up Zachary, and continued south on 50 for the end of the earth. Stopping for food and gas, we made decent time, slowed only by the fact that the safari top needed to be up to keep Zachary’s hair from blowing all over his face.
The park is very well-run, and one of the cleanest and most well-equipped state parks I’ve been to. Our campsite was spotless and in a perfect spot to pick up breezes off the marsh. I got the site organized while I had the kids ride their bikes around to scout out the bathhouses, camp store, and marina.
Figuring we’d be hot overnight, I left the rain hood off the tent to keep us ventilated and started a fire. The hobo stew is in foil packets and was on the fire for 45 minutes before I got impatient, took it off and heated it in a pan. The kids were pretty cool about trying it (or, just extremely hungry) and we all made it disappear pretty quickly. Then, figuring we’d have nothing better to do, I drove us in to Crisfield to walk the pier and see what was there.
A century ago Crisfield was the epicenter of oyster fishing in the country, but the town has declined along with the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Most of what we saw was dark and quiet—an ice cream shop along the water actually had a sign saying they were closed due to lack of staff.
We found an ancient diner on Main Street and kept them open to enjoy their A/C and our ice cream for as long as was respectful, and then headed back to the campsite. I set the kids up with headlamps I’d bought and we lit off some sparklers by the canal before calling it a night.
On the pier at Crisfield we’d seen heat lightning flashing to the north, and my weather app showed big orange blobs on the radar heading our way. I made sure to get the rain cover ready and packed away all of our consumables in Tupperware tubs in the truck. Then we laid down for the hottest night in a tent I’ve spent since 1997. That time my ex and I had to wander the pier at Myrtle Beach until about 3AM, when exhaustion set in and we finally passed out in the tent for three hours—until planes started taking off from the airport directly over our heads.
This time we all tossed and turned until about midnight, when a blast of wind suddenly hit us and I knew I had precious minutes to get the rain cover on the tent. I scrambled outside to get the cover secured right as the first fat drops started hitting, and by the time I was able to get back inside, the wind was blowing the tent sideways and Finn was sitting up holding it in place.
It rained hard for half an hour, and then tapered off pretty quickly. The tent is a good one and kept all of the rain out both top and bottom—thank god. We all laid back down to try and sleep. It had cooled off but I couldn’t remove the rain cover to ventilate while the trees dripped on us, so things got muggy. Zachary found it impossible to sleep and was sitting up every half an hour, miserable. At about 4AM I told him if he couldn’t sleep we weren’t going to stay the second night and that I was totally OK with bailing out. That seemed to make him feel a little better, but didn’t help him sleep at all.
In the morning, he and I were up the earliest. I got coffee going and then made us some breakfast on Dad’s skillet while he talked to his Mom on my phone. We ate some food and let Finn sleep in until quarter of eight, then got ourselves ready to run over to the camp store to rent a canoe. I parked the truck in the sunlight to dry out and we filled the boat with our gear. Paddling out into the marsh, we followed a canal for a kilometer that led out into an area of open water and up to the beach separating marsh from bay. We were the first to pull our canoe up onto the sand, and we immediately got into the water to cool off.
Because it’s so shallow, the water was about 85˚ and very calm, so we stayed in for an hour and relaxed until the kids wanted to fish. We hiked back to a pier leading out into the open area of the marsh and I hung out with them for an hour while they dropped their lines in the water. While they were occupied, I took a side trip up the beach until I was away from everyone and spread some of Dad’s ashes out into the bay. Some of my strongest and best memories of him are from camping at the beach, and I was missing him a lot on Saturday.
The fish weren’t biting, so Finn got bored; we left Zachary at the pier and took the canoe back to the beach. He joined us after about 20 minutes, and we stayed in the water for about three straight hours laughing and splashing until our fingers were prunes and our stomachs were growling.
I got the kids hydrated and snacked, and then we got back in the canoe to paddle back to the marina. Thankfully the wind was at our back so it was pretty easy for me to paddle us back in—both kids ran out of steam about halfway back. Finn had applied sunblock 3 times but was still bright red and I think Zachary was suffering the lack of sleep. I got the zombies back to the campsite and sent them off to the bathhouse to wash off with their pre-selected clothes (DAD WIN) while I broke down camp and packed the truck up. After I got showered, I threw the bikes on the back of the truck, cleaned up our site, and hit the road for home.
About 5 miles out of the park we got hit with a rainstorm, so I put the hammer down until I could find a covered gas station and put the full top back up on the truck. Finn was up front slathered with aloe and Zachary was in back, so I think he only got a sprinkling. We put the rain behind us and stopped at a Hardee’s for a huge, well-deserved burger and fries, and continued on to Easton.
Dropping Zachary off at home, I noticed more storm clouds brewing north of us, so I hustled Finn out the door, put the bikini top back up, and floored it for home, hoping we could outrun the clouds moving southward. The Scout doesn’t currently have windshield wipers—it’s a long story—so I’ve coated the windshield with Rain-X. It works remarkably well on a summer day but at night in a thunderstorm I don’t want to test it out. Thankfully she’ll do 70mph with no effort, and with brand-new front brakes I’m not worried about stopping anymore.
We made it over the bridge with no problem—and as we got closer to home the clouds seemed to move off to the west. We pulled into the driveway at 8:30 dry as a bone and exhausted; I brought all of the consumables inside to the front porch and backed the truck into the garage.
Even though it wasn’t the full two-night three-day experience, I think we all had a lot of fun under the circumstances. Sometimes you roll the dice and get great weather, and sometimes the heat chases you home. I know we all slept like babies in our own air-conditioned beds last night, and with the kids going back to school tomorrow, that was the right call.